TABLE WO-1An Infectious Disease Timeline

 1346Black Death begins spreading in Europe.
 1492Christopher Columbus initiates European-American contact, which leads to transmission of European diseases to the Americas and vice versa.
 1530Girolamo Fracastoro puts forward an early version of the germ theory of disease.
 1627Cinchona bark (quinine) is brought to Europe to treat malaria.
 1683Anton van Leeuwenhoek uses his microscopes to observe tiny animalcules (later known as bacteria) in tooth plaque.
 1796Edward Jenner develops technique of vaccination, at first against smallpox.
 1848Ignaz Semmelweis introduces antiseptic methods.
 1854John Snow recognizes link between the spread of cholera and drinking water supplies.
 1860sLouis Pasteur concludes that infectious diseases are caused by living organisms called “germs.” An early practical consequence was Joseph Lister’s development of antisepsis by using carbolic acid to disinfect wounds.
 1876Robert Koch validates germ theory of disease and helps initiate the science of bacteriology with a paper pinpointing a bacterium as the cause of anthrax.
 1880Louis Pasteur develops method of attenuating a virulent pathogen (for chicken cholera) so that it immunizes but does not infect; in 1881 he devises an anthrax vaccine and in 1885, a rabies vaccine. Charles Laveran finds malarial parasites in erythrocytes of infected people and shows that the parasite replicates in the host.
 1890Emil von Behring and Shibasaburo Kitasato discover diphtheria antitoxin serum, the first rational approach to therapy for infectious disease.
 1891Paul Ehrlich proposes that antibodies are responsible for immunity.
 1892The field of virology begins when Dmitri Ivanowski discovers exquisitely small pathogenic agents, later known as viruses, while searching for the cause of tobacco mosaic disease.
 1899Organizing meeting of the Society of American Bacteriologists—later to be known as the American Society for Microbiology—is held at Yale University.
 1900Based on work by Walter Reed, a commission of researchers shows that yellow fever is caused by a virus from mosquitoes; mosquito-eradication programs are begun.
 1905Fritz Schaudinn and Erich Hoffmann discover bacterial cause of syphilis—Treponema pallidum.
 1911Francis Rous reports on a viral etiology of a cancer (Rous sarcoma virus).
 1918–1919Epidemic of “Spanish” flu causes at least 25 million deaths.
 1928Frederick Griffith discovers genetic transformation phenomenon in pneumococci, thereby establishing a foundation of molecular genetics.
 1929Alexander Fleming reports discovering penicillin in mold.
 1935Gerhard Domagk synthesizes the antimetabolite Prontosil, which kills Streptococcus in mice.
 1937Ernst Ruska uses an electron microscope to obtain first pictures of a virus.
 1941Selman Waksman suggests the word “antibiotic” for compounds and preparations that have antimicrobial properties; 2 years later, he and colleagues discover streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis, in a soil fungus.
 1944Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod, and Maclyn McCarty identify DNA as the genetically active material in the pneumococcus transformation.
 1946Edward Tatum and Joshua Lederberg discover “sexual” conjugation in bacteria.
 1948The World Health Organization (WHO) is formed within the United Nations.
 1952Renato Dulbecco shows that a single virus particle can produce plaques.
 1953James Watson and Francis Crick reveal the double helical structure of DNA.
 Late 1950sFrank Burnet enunciates clonal selection theory of the immune response.
 1960Arthur Kornberg demonstrates DNA synthesis in cell-free bacterial extract. François Jacob and Jacques Monod report work on genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.
 1970Howard Temin and David Baltimore independently discover that certain RNA viruses use reverse transcription (RNA to reconstitute DNA) as part of their replication cycle.
 1975Asilomar conference sets standards for the containment of possible biohazards from recombinant DNA experiments with microbes.
 1979Smallpox eradication program of WHO is completed; the world is declared free of smallpox.
 1981AIDS first identified as a new infectious disease by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 1982Stanley Prusiner finds evidence that a class of infectious proteins, which he calls prions, cause scrapie in sheep.
 1983Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo announce their discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus that is believed to cause AIDS.
 1984Barry Marshall shows that isolates from ulcer patients contain the bacterium later known as Helicobacter pylori. The discovery ultimately leads to a new pathogen-based etiology of ulcers.
 1985Robert Gallo, Dani Bolognesi, Sam Broder, and others show that AZT inhibits HIV action in vitro.
 1988Kary Mullis reports basis of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for detection of even single DNA molecules.
 1995J. Craig Venter, Hamilton Smith, Claire Fraser, and colleagues at The Institute for Genomic Research elucidate the first complete genome sequence of a microorganism: Haemophilus influenzae.
 1996Implied link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (“mad cow disease”) and human disease syndrome leads to large-scale controls on British cattle.
 1999New York experiences outbreak of West Nile encephalopathy transmitted by birds and mosquitoes.
 c. 2000Antibiotic-resistant pathogens are spreading in many environments.

NOTE: For more extensive chronological listings, see “Microbiology’s fifty most significant events during the past 125 years,” poster supplement to ASM News 65(5), 1999.

From: Workshop Overview

Cover of Microbial Evolution and Co-Adaptation
Microbial Evolution and Co-Adaptation: A Tribute to the Life and Scientific Legacies of Joshua Lederberg: Workshop Summary.
Institute of Medicine (US) Forum on Microbial Threats.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009.
Copyright © 2009, National Academy of Sciences.

NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.